Autonomy in transport 🚶 🚲 🚌 🚋 🚇 🚄 🚗
A bus leaving Amsterdam central station, 6th of April 2022
A bus leaving Amsterdam central station, 6th of April 2022

2021 was a shit year for many, but despite the pandemic and such for me it was actually pretty good. I had gotten more energy than ever. Which lead to me discovering something: autonomy in transport.

Some background: My mother used to drive me around. When I went to high school(middelbare school), I sometimes took the bus, but often I was too tired for that, I mostly depended on my mother. I have had many times when I felt ill and just wanted to go home. And sometimes I had to wait quite a while for someone to show up and come and get me. I can feel that awful feeling when I think back to that time. When I dropped out, I went to a strange place full of drop-outs, but, because of my fatigue, was too far too cycle and the public transport was taking too many hurdles. Right now I have the energy to do either of these options, but back then my mom had to drive me and pick me up. Every. Time. For me it wasn't that big of a deal, but obviously, for my mother, it was.

So that's why I had been trying to get my driver's license for several years, but no avail. But as my energy increased, the alternatives to the car(cycling and public transport), suddenly became an option.

Of course, back then I also used the bicycle, however only locally, for the trip to the grocery store for example. And just to relax. Now I could do trips of more than 15 km. I could cycle to the next village(4 km), to the next city even(13 km). And that's such a relief. Now I could come and go whenever I'd like, I wouldn't have to arrange someone to pick me up or something, which is more of a burden than it seems at first glance. Someone needs to be available, can't do something else. I have to be on time, they would too.

... and that was in the rural part of the country. Now I live in urban Amsterdam, where getting around without a car is even easier. I use the bicycle for pretty much everything, and I love to use it, rain or sunshine. I even enjoy commuting. A few weeks ago I got vaccinated at Schiphol airport, and yes, I used the bicycle. I went to the airport using a bicycle. And even to the airport there's good infrastructure, great paths separated from car roads, signs pointing you to the right direction. Awesome. I was just thinking about how crazy that actually is. And a flat tire? Or a storm? No problem, I take the metro or the tram.

I have a friend who lives in Utrecht, a city ~35 km away. I take the bicycle, walk or go with the metro to the train station, and every 10 minutes a train departs there to Utrecht. I don't even need to plan it anymore. There I can use the bus, which goes every 15 minutes, or the train(every 30 minutes) plus a bit of walking, or rent a public transport bicycle(OV-fiets)

When I go back to my parent's home, in the rural south east of the Netherlands, I take the train. I go with the bicycle to the train station, park it there. Every half hour a train leaves to the nearest city of my parent's house. And there I take the bus, which often seems nearly deserted and only drives every hour outside of the peak hours. I have been the lone passenger in that bus multiple times. It used to drive every 30 minutes. Which I sometimes complain about that it drives hourly now, but really, it could be worse. Much, much worse.

I like to sometimes watch videos of the youtube channel "Not Just Bikes", or the relaxing Bicycle Dutch, because now I know everything I take for granted. Bicycling isn't a thing in many countries. Public transport can suck in many places. And even when transport is car centric, even the infrastructure for that can suck.

Honestly, speaking from a infrastructural standpoint, many places in North America(NA) seem like hell. How would someone like me get around? I asked someone who used to live in New Jersey, not too far from New York: "Get ready to pay 10 dollars for a uber or cab every time you want to go somewhere" Seriously, I feel bad for everyone living there.

Some of this NA stuff is just beyond astonishing. A sidewalk? this basic infrastructure is apparently too much to ask for.

Or that perplexing bus story from Canada, where a father taught his kids to ride the bus on their own, got a warning that if the kids would be unattended again, his kids would be taken away from him.

An empty NS VIRMm train on Amsterdam Central station, when there were no trains running due to a software error, 6th of April 2022.
An empty NS VIRMm train on Amsterdam Central station, when there were no trains running due to a software error, 6th of April 2022. It left many people stranded. Though ironic, I actually think it underscores this essay.

As a kid, I used to loiter around with friends a lot, either on foot or using a bicycle. And as an early teenager took the bus(though I didn't this often because of health issues). Walk to the nearest grocery store and buy candy. Get lost in woods. Playing in playgrounds around a village. Cycle to school(which I rarely did as I lived in a different village and I was often ill and such). Without attendance of my or their parents. It was great.

But what about safety? Kids, like their grown up variants, are dumb, but not as dumb as you might think. They also have an antenna for unsafe situations, which you develop. After all, how are you going to develop these skills else? Kidnapping? Extremely rare. Rape? usually done by familiar people. And it doesn't mean you were alone all the time. You could meet other kids playing as well, there are also other people on the street, in an emergency you can just ring doorbells or something, and by the way, now kids have cellphones, too, so they can just call people.

And hear I hear that this not possible in the USA. Kids are simply stuck at home, or have to ask someone to drive them around. I asked the guy from New Jersey again, asking if he could roam around the neighbourhood in his childhood. "Not without my parents." "Without a car? Walk to a park/store or something?" I reply. "No. Fuck no. Everything was by car." At least he had a nice backyard.

Think about this. Go to the grocery store? No. Walk to a park? No. It requires a car. No wonder Americans see the car as a symbol of freedom: they can't go anywhere else without one. But this doesn't need to be, here in the Netherlands, and many other countries, there are viable alternatives so that virtually anyone can get around. Walking, cycling, bus, train, tram... And this can coexist with good car infrastructure as well(except for maybe really high density urban areas), the Netherlands is an example of that.

I love the fact that I can do so much without a car, but the lack of car dependency is important for other things. Without other infrastructure, if you can't afford a car(which are expensive), you can't go to work. If you can't go to work, you'll be stuck both in home and in poverty. If you don't have a driver's license, like me, you'd be completely screwed. Not only that, there are also problems like congestion, land use, traffic safety as well as significant environmental problems such as air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Without an affordable train, I can't visit my parents. Without bicycle paths or public transport, I can't go to my school. If you want to have a society where everyone can participate in, the alternatives to a car are a necessity.

I cannot emphasize my appreciation for public transport and other transportation infrastructure enough.